Monday, June 23, 2014

14 organizational tips for Project Leaders (and everyone else)

I have started my career in Communication and then became a Continuous Improvement Project Leader. Both roles demand a strict organization, as multitasking and unplanned tasks were key to succeed.

I have developed an organization that works for myself and may help you get more organized. Here are a few tips that should make your life easier:

At your work space:
  • Do not over sort: Pinterest should have a "do not try this at home" mention on their desk pictures. If your sorting system is too complex (even though it is allegedly pretty), you will quickly stop using it and start creating a mess. This also applies to your computer and folders (and at home!).
  • Be proactive: Sort your documents and clean your desk / computer / inbox less but more often. It will seem like it is a smaller and easier task and prevent clustering. 
  • Archive old projects: Once a project is completed, sort the paper documents associated to that project. Throw away what is not important and put the rest in a folder and in a carton. You can also create a CD with the project data and put it in the folder.
This is my desk at the end of the day. I use my laptop screen for emails and the second screen for everything else. I had to remove my sticky note for a board visit, but they usually are on the glasses between my colleagues and I.

Managing your tasks:
  • Use the 5 Whys: When getting assigned a task, use the 5 Whys (ask why until you reach the root cause) to make sure you understand what and why you will be performing. You will save time and avoid confusion, rework and frustration.
  • Lists & sticky notes: Write down the tasks you need to perform (lists), the information you can't forget (sticky notes). Review them on a daily basis and get rid of what has been done. There is nothing more rewarding than crossing every item of a to-do list!
  • Color code your inbox / calendar: Define a color by project (or type of task / department / site...) and apply it to your emails and calendar. You can then sort your emails by color to get a good idea of the workload for each project. It also applies to your calendar: you'll see instantly how your time will be used.
  • Create one folder per project: One folder in your inbox and one on your drive for each project. You can then create sub-folders for specific topics (and an "Old" one for previous versions of your docs).
  • Number your folders: By giving each folder a number, they will automatically be sorted by chronological order. You can also access them quickly by typing the number you are looking for. If you use a project management system that automatically gives a reference number to your projects, you can use them.
  • Inbox is for emails to work on: Sort everything that doesn't need (anymore) an action from you in its right folder. That leaves you with only the tasks at hand in your inbox.
  • Use rules to sort your emails: Emails generated by a system or information given to a number of people can be sorted automatically in the right folder so you look at them only if you need to. You can also create a "Cc" folder in which you send automatically every email for which you are in Cc (and not the recipient). That should clean your inbox (especially if you are a manager).
Quick access to my personal emails, to the folder where all communications go, projects sorted by number and color coding

Planning your time:
  • Put everything in your calendar: Make sure to have every meeting in your calendar, but also the tasks you need to perform on your own, planned phone calls, appointments, etc. That is the only way not to forget anything. Don't forget to use the Private function!
  • Be realistic: No need to plan 1 hour for a meeting when you know it is going to take 2. Planning more time than necessary will make it easier if the meeting runs late. It will also be less overwhelming if you are late according to your planning or can't do everything that was planned. 
  • Keep some free time: Unexpected events happen all the time. If you have free slots in your agenda, it will be easier to face unpredictable events / tasks.
  • Only one meeting at the time: This sounds like the dumbest piece of advice, though it is rarely applied! You won't be able to attend two meetings at the same time. Sort your priorities and make a choice. You will be more effective fully focused on one meeting than partly attending two.
Blue/Green is for training, red for mentoring, yellow for reporting and green for a data entry project

Any additional tip? Feel free to leave a comment, I'll add it in the right section!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thresholds for outside stimulation : Media of interaction

After the « who » of my interactions with the outside world, I need to classify the « how ». I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s the case of most introverts, but the way people reach out to me have a huge impact on the whole interaction.

My friends and family often make fun of the fact that my husband is the easier way to get a hold of me on the phone. They even tend to call him before they try my number. The reason behind this is simple: there is other media I dislike as much as phone calls. I answer my phone for work related calls all day, but avoid doing so after hours. Here are 4 of the reasons for my hatred against phone calls:
  •      My attention is always drawn to other places: incoming emails, TV, people around me, my previous activity, my computer…
  •    You can’t delay a phone call: it’s not always the right time / place to talk, you can be interrupted / interrupting while doing something else…
  •      It is impossible to read the other person’s face and body language.
  •      Speaking a foreign language over the phone tend to be a challenge.

Face-to-face interactions are usually better but depend on other factors like how many people I’m interacting with at once and how comfortable I am around them. It is a lot easier to focus my attention on them as they stand in front of me. I’ll fully interrupt what I have been doing if someone comes to talk to me. Though, I am not always comfortable initiating these face-to-face talk, especially with people I don’t know, at a party for instance.

I am very comfortable with emails as a medium. They tend to be somewhat formal because mostly work related but allow me to proofread myself and take my time to perfect my answer. I read and answer them when I’m comfortable to and I assume others do too. Also, they help me keep track of details and tasks I need to complete.

Office Communicator (OCS) is in between emails and texts. Messages tend to be short and casual, but I can still proofread my answer. The answer is usually expected immediately, but these interactions are not usually of high importance. Most of the time, I know well and am comfortable with people I interact with this way, whoever initiated the interaction.

Although I don’t like phone calls, I do spend a lot of time on my phone, and typing texts is fast and easy and comfortable to me. I can delay an answer, I’m sure the person I’m texting will answer when comfortable to do so. They are more personal than emails and people usually expect little of them (usually the answer to a precise question or some small chat).

Social media have become a part of my DNA. I don’t Instagram a picture of everything I eat, but I still share easily my pictures and like those of my feed. Same goes for Facebook: I share only what I want and keep in touch this way with all my contacts at once and easily. I have been blogging and using Google+ quite often lately with considerable ease, but also a certain fear of social judgment (or shyness). 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thresholds for outside stimulation : Outside interactions

I’ve started Susan Cain’s Quiet, and I love her definition of introversion, as it fit me pretty well (p. 11)
“Introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation” .

As I stated in my introduction, my daily job as a Lean Six Sigma BlackBelt drives me to mathematically verify my assumptions. So when I read this definition, my first reflex is to try and measure the level of stimulation that feel just right, first for me, then for others introverts and extroverts.

To be able to do that, I need to record stimulations in such a way to be able to perform a regression later on. That means recording not only how many stimulations I receive daily, but also their type, who they come from, by what means and how they make me feel. I’ve learn the hard way that it’s better to collect too much data when starting an analysis that to try to get them later on. As I need to perform statistical analysis on this data, I need to score each of these parameters.

Let’s start with the easier of all: the “who”.

The closest person to me is my husband. We have been living together for a few years now and found a way to make it work, despite our differences. See, he is a true extrovert who runs his own IT business. A good work day for him is seeing as many of his favorite customers as possible. A bad day would be spent alone at home working on customers’ systems. Generally speaking, of all of the people I know, he is the one who is the most effortless to interact with.

Then there are my family and close friends. We obviously don’t live together and are in touch fairly often (to my standards!). Interactions are effortless and silences are comfortable ones. Though, I don’t like to be on the phone with them, preferring by far seeing them.

As a project manager, I’m in touch with many people all day long. If I have a good relationship with that person, I’ve no problem interacting with them (depending on the subject). Though, colleagues are different from other relationships as they are ruled by the company HR chart & policy. We owe each other respect and can be held accountable for our actions. I’ll rate them equal as my family, as even if I’m less comfortable with them than my family, I interact with my colleagues every day (and have no say in this).

Acquaintances I don’t really keep in touch with, and when I do it’s mostly through Facebook or other social media. I don’t mind interacting with them, but I won’t be the one to initiate it. Another kind of acquaintances is colleagues I know but don’t see / interact with often. I’ll contact them if I need only and am not always comfortable interacting with them, as I know them less.

The last category is not a happy one. I’ll put here every person I don’t trust, am in a conflict with or dislike interacting with. As I hate conflict, they are the most difficult people for me to interact with, but I often don’t have a choice. I’ll call that category “unwanted relationships”.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Surviving the open space

In the 6 years I've been working, I've experienced different office configurations: small open space (4 desk hubs), large open space (15 people), office alone and 2 people office. Today, I’m back in a large open space, and feel very tired at the end of the day from the noise and interruptions.

Here are a few strategies I use to survive my days in the open space:

  • Be at home at your desk: make sure you have everything around you to keep organized and to take small notes quickly. Also, looking at a picture you like for a few minutes can help you clear your head from the noise and activity going on around you.
  • Isolate yourself from the noise: practice your ability to tune out everything around you. Don’t worry about people around you wanting to talk to you: they’ll find a way if it’s important. If you can, put headphones on, without music if you just want others to stop talking to you, or with music to block the noise.
  • Say “no”: you don’t have to help everyone and do everything you’re asked to. If you don’t have time, don’t know how to fix your neighbor’s IT issue or are not the right person to do the job, say it! 
  • Work from home or another work space once in a while: book a meeting room or a quieter space to perform tasks that require all your attention. If you can, work from home once in a while. Your productivity will increase and it will make the open space more bearable.
  • Recharge during lunch: do something you like during your lunch: read a book, eat alone or with someone you get along with, eat in a fairly private spot or outside, whichever recharges more your batteries. 
  • Use your commute time wisely: when going to work, brace yourself for the noise and activity that will take place in your day. When going back home, clear your head from your day and get ready to spend time with your family. Use mood specific playlists to get in the right mindset.

But obviously, the best way to survive the open space is to get a desk in a less crowded space!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The introvert trainer

As a Lean Six Sigma BlackBelt, one of my roles is to train my neophyte colleagues to the methodology. The group I work for has developed an initiation training that every employee has to go through. This is how I ended having 15 sessions of training planned in six weeks.

For three hours, I speak to 10 people about wastes, bottlenecks and root cause analysis. I know my material thoroughly as I translated it into French and that I have a deep understanding of the topics I speak about. During each session, we use a simulation to teach the concepts, as we often do in the group for Lean Six Sigma training.

Surprisingly enough, I love to train people. I love to pass on my knowledge, and even though speaking to a fairly large group of colleagues is something I’m not entirely comfortable with, the sessions have been going pretty well so far.

Being so caught up into training makes introspection easier. I've been asking for feedback and looking back on how have done during my first few sessions. Here are some of the tips that work for me:

Before the training:
  • Get to know your material thoroughly: the more you know your material, the easier it will be to deliver it. Rehearse the training in your head a few days before and try to figure out the best way to deliver the message according to your audience and the message you want to deliver. 
  • Prepare a few examples to illustrate your words: examples are always hard to find on the spot. If you have enough ready, you can use them first and then either come with new ones linked to your audience or ask trainees for some of their own.
  • Make sure the logistics are flawless: if the room, time, breaks, food… need action from you when starting the training, you can’t relax and focus on the matter at hand. Make sure everyone, starting by you, is comfortable with the logistics. 
  • Choose your outfit wisely: your outfit, but most likely how comfortable you are in it will determine trainees’ first impression. Your outfit should reflect the topics you are teaching but also the kind of audience you have. 

During the training:
  • Use your stress to be energetic and don’t forget to smile: your stress can make your trainees uncomfortable but your smile will most likely make them smile back at you. Standing may help you focus on your speech and look more energetic.
  • Don't forget introductions: introduce yourself first to set the expectations and give participants a minute or two to prepare their introductions. If the training is long enough, you may want to use an icebreaker game.
  • State your agenda: give your participants an idea of what to expect during the training. Reassure them about their breaks and the time allowed to check on emails or make a call.
  • Listen to your audience (or watch their reactions): tell your trainees when they should ask questions and how much you want them to participate. Pay attention to their body language to see how they are doing and look at their faces to make sure they understand what you are saying. 
  • Try to include every participant, but never force someone to speak up: if you can, talk about projects related to your trainees, say their names when you talk to / about them. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to speak their minds, but don't insist if a participant doesn't want to speak.
  • Use examples related to your job but also to your personal experience / life: if your trainees come from different department / product lines of the company, make sure to use examples that all can understand. Use other companies to demonstrate your point. If you teach Lean Six Sigma, talk about your personal experience or life: many concepts can be used at home too.
  • Be patient with questions and praise the trainees who speak up: some participants will need more time to understand the concepts you are teaching. Remember that asking for an explanation can be a huge effort for them. When a trainee gives an example, try to say something positive and build on their example.

After the training:
  • Get feedback from trainees you trust to be honest or managers: if you have a clear understanding of what was well perceived and what can be improved, you can only get better. Also, seeking feedback should earn you respect from your peers.
  • Send an email to trainees to thank them for participating: follow up is key to leave a good impression. Besides, you may have documents, complementary information or pictures to send to the participants.
  •  Make sure participants will keep something from your training: it can be material, pictures, a small (corporate) gift, but also knowledge to apply at work and in their personal life.

Don't forget to have a good time! If the training is painful for you, it will be even worse for the participants... Good luck !